It was Glenn who found the dead cat. Underneath a bush in Mr. Kensey’s front yard. He told Daniel about it, and then Daniel came over to my house and told me. I went across the street and told Jamie. And for a few hours one Saturday, it was the news on our block: this stiff, dead cat.
We had to crawl through some bushes to get to it. In the close Houston air, we sat on our knees, our skin damp with sweat and brown with summer, and we looked down at the cat lying there on its side, lips pulled back in a rigor mortis grin. Aside from being dead, there seemed to be nothing wrong with it. No wound. No visible trauma.
“I dare you to touch it,” said Daniel.
“If you touch it, you’re gonna die,” said Jamie.
“I’ll touch it,” I said, and I put my hand on the cat’s stiff shoulder.
A kind of trick of the senses happens when you touch a dead thing. The expectation of something familiar. Some reaction: fear, joy, love. Warmth. Comfort. My hand on this cat, which was no longer a cat at all, just a container that resembled a cat and held a mass of hardening cat biology, strange and heavy and full. My hand on this cat, and the nothing that followed.
And some time later, my mom, sitting next to me in my bed, her hand on my shoulder: “You’re not going to die, David.” She didn’t know about the cat. Still, things always seemed true when she said them.
I have always touched the dead things I’m near. Behind bushes or under sheds: canine casualties. A groundhog flat on its back near the hibiscus. A rabbit caught just short of the fence. Now things I pull into plastic grocery bags.
And in cold hospital rooms: the darkening fingertips of hands that had held mine, lips partly open that had once said, “I’m so happy,” when we danced at my wedding. My hand on her stiff shoulder, then on the belly that had belonged to her, now swollen and hard underneath white blankets. My hand on her belly, and the trick of the senses from the nothing that followed. It only lasted for a few minutes, that last touch. And of all the things to remember about the years I spent with her, that shouldn’t be it. But the echo of that touch, the weight of that nothing, continues to follow me.
Originally published by The Austin Review.